Christopher Luxon expects to 'get better' in House after 'stumble' while questioning Prime Minister, won't say who won clash

"I loved it yesterday. I was really excited."
"I loved it yesterday. I was really excited." Photo credit: Facebook.

Christopher Luxon expects he will "get better" in Parliament's Question Time after a brief "stumble" during his first outing on Tuesday.

The new National Party leader went head-to-head with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday afternoon for the first time, questioning her over the criteria used to decide which traffic light level each region should be at and also around ICU capacity in New Zealand.

Early on in the exchange, he stumbled while asking a supplementary question, unable to find his notes. Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday, Luxon said he would get better with practice.

"I loved it yesterday. I was really excited because it's actually quite a different feeling when you get down in the House versus what you often see on TV," he said.

"But what happened there was, yes, [I] made a stumble. I had a number of questions. The Prime Minister answered the question in the way that I wanted and I couldn't find the question that I had thought I wanted to follow that up with. But it was my first go. I'll get better. I thoroughly enjoyed it."

The AM Host Ryan Bridge said Luxon would need to find a way to counter Ardern when she responds with "I reject the question" or an iteration of that, as she often does. The Prime Minister gave that reply when Luxon asked her on Tuesday why her Government spent "more than $50 billion from its COVID fund before announcing any funding for extra ICU beds?".

Ardern went on to say that it was important not to just have ICU beds, but also staffing for them.

"Five ICU nurses are required per bed, so not only have we got 300 ICU or high dependency unit beds and the ability to surge to 500, we put aside funding in the Budget to ensure that we could train the staff required for the additional beds that we have."

Luxon told Bridge: "It is really challenging". 

"There are a lot of rules and protocols about the types of questions you can ask, how you phrase them. As an Opposition member, what you're actually doing in Question Time is, remember there are two parts of Opposition, oppose and propose, this is very much the oppose part. The Speaker, as you know, holds a pretty tight rein on the rules and protocols in that place."

He said there has been an "electric atmosphere" in the House and he came out saying "gee, I want to do it all again". 

"What I was really impressed about yesterday was, you know, person on person, line up our top team against the Government's team, and start to ask yourself the question, who do you want as minister and do we look like an alternative government in waiting? We've started that process, we've started that journey. It's been seven days into the new job."

He wouldn't say if he thought he outperformed Ardern.

"What I'm saying is that when you look at our team, and you look at the performance of Nicola Willis and Simon Bridges and Shane Reti and Chris Bishop, I thought we were looking really on song, joined up and focused as a team.

"It's a hard reset. We're going to go forward very positively. National is back and I want us to be opposing strongly. But I also want us to be proposing ideas in the coming year too."

Dr Lara Greaves, a political scientist at the University of Auckland, told Newshub that despite Luxon's "fumble" he did well only a little over a year into his parliamentary career. 

"From what we've seen of Luxon so far when he has done speeches in Parliament is that he has been a fairly strong speaker and a convincing speaker. He's had a lot of experience talking and speaking to the public," she said.

"I think it's been tough for Luxon only being in for a year and within that year, we've had COVID, we've had reduced parliamentary setting. We've had those sorts of complications around COVID. So Luxon hasn't had as much experience in the House as even what someone would after one year."

Dr Greaves said it's becoming clear from Luxon's performances at press conferences, interviews and now in Question Time that he is someone who studies the latest issues carefully. 

"We did see some trouble from him when he started the wrong question and then kind of stood up when David Seymour was giving a question, it was slightly awkward there, but still probably as good as we can expect."

She also praised Ardern for "coming prepared" with clear messaging and statistics needed to back up her points. 

"I think fundamentally, for our democracy, a really good aspect of the leadership change has been that now we're focusing more on Question Time and we're focusing more on Luxon as leader and what he's bringing and putting on the agenda."